Archiver > CHESHIRE > 2007-03 > 1175111386

From: "Elaine Hanson" <>
Date: Wed, 28 Mar 2007 20:49:46 +0100
In-Reply-To: <>



I know of a contact that is researching the CLARE family, so I'll forward
your email, and if he's able to help I'm sure he will.

As for information on Watermen in the 1800's, there's very little available
currently, most of what has been written is out of print, so I'm afraid that
if you don't have access to the Library system here(for inter Library
lending), you might find getting hold of books difficult.
You should still be able to get a copy of "The Weaver Watermen" by
T.S.Lightfoot (ISBN 0 904532 07 0)which deals with the life as a waterman in
the 1900's, when the vessels were powered by steam.

If there's anything in particular you want to know, some topics may well be
in the list archives, but you could ask particular questions, there are many
listers with watermen in their families with knowledge gathered over time.

>From my local knowledge, the CLARE family in Northwich were watermen using
"Flats" on the River Weaver.

Here's a couple of brief extracts that might help.

Next to nothing is known about the gangs of men who hauled the "Flats" up
and down the river when it was impossible to sail them. It must have been
heavy and exhausting work as there was not even a proper towpath until 1792,
and they had to scramble along the banks as best they could. When the
towpath was made, horses could be used instead of men between Winsford and
Frodsham bridge. From there the flats sailed on the tide down the Mersey to
Liverpool, a hazardous voyage in stormy weather.
In the early years of the Weaver Navigation, many of the watermen, or
flatmen as they were known, owned their craft and carried cargoes for the
salt proprietors. They were known as "Number Ones". Some of them became
quite prosperous and invested the money they had made in salt works of their
own. The ancestors of the largest salt proprietors of the mid-19th century,
like the Deakins and Verdins began as Number Ones.
There were strong family traditions amongst the watermen and sons followed
their fathers in the job. The records show that certain families in
Northwich and Winsford provided several generations of watermen. The job
required skill and knowledge and boys were brought up to the way of life
beginning as apprentices under their fathers, and ending up captains of
their own craft.
The conditions of work were hard, and the hours long, involving much absence
from home.
In the earlier part of the Nineteenth century, working the flats was a
family occupation. Numbers of women and children lived and worked on the
vessels-the wives and children assisting with the steering and setting
through the locks and "trimming" i.e. loading the boats. It was not a
comfortable existence. Flats were shallow-draft, broad-beamed vessels -
originally of 50-80 tons; they gradually increased in size to between 100-88
tons, they were not as stoutly built as ships and therefore could not resist
the damp so well. Ideal for sailing on the Weaver, the flats had a rough
time in the treacherous waters of the Mersey estuary or in the Irish Sea.
[Extracts copied from SALT in CHESHIRE. Part 3 Section 11 p28 & 151- The

Extract from The Weaver Watermen by T.S.Lightfoot. [p2]
...the terms boats, barges, packets and flats are used which is perhaps
rather confusing and needs explanation.The sailing vessels origionally used
on the Weaver when it was first made navigable were known as "flats",
whereas the steam powered vessels introduced in the 1860's were called
"packets". The older term "flat" was however still used by local people to
embrace all Weaver craft and hence the men who worked on them were called
"flatmen". Sometimes the packets were called steam barges, though this is
not strictly correct as barges were the engineless "dumb" barges towed by
the packets. To complete the confusion they were all commonly referred to as


I am looking for information on a Thomas Clare b1867 Northwich died April
1942 I think he was a Waterman, his father was a Thomas Clare b1847/8 and
married to Mary. Does anyone know if there is any information on Waterman
those that worked on the canals please or this family,

Regards Gill

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